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Why Marvin Harrison Jr. Got Sued By Fanatics And What It Means For The Hobby

Marvin Harrison Jr. is very much his own man. So many athletes today try to fit into the corporate cookie-cutter mold. But Marvin, who many consider the best wide receiver in a generation, marches to his drum.

That may end up being a good thing and help the player become a more prominent celebrity and put asses in the proverbial stadium seats. However, that tendency towards individualism has gotten the player into trouble with fanatics.

What happened exactly? And what will this mean for athletes, Fanatics, and the hobby more generally? We unpack everything in our primer on how Marvin Harrison Jr. got sued by Fanatics.

It was a pretty rough week for Marvin Harrison Jr. The young player did not attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere and got a lot of slack for that omission. Then, over the same weekend, he was sued by sports card and apparel powerhouse Fanatics.

Who Is Marvin Harrison Jr.?

Anyone who follows college football was astounded by the form Marvin Harrison Jr. has shown for Ohio State. And those of us who have been around the block (a kind euphemism for getting incredibly old) will remember his father, Marvin Harrison, a Hall of Famer wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts.

There was talk about him being the first wide receiver to be picked first since Keyshawn Johnson got the nod in 1996. But he was taken fourth. Perhaps he deserved to be selected higher than fourth in the 2024 NFL Draft.

But what are you going to do? Quarterbacks get all the headlines; this class was more loaded than most. So Marvin was selected behind Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye.

He outperformed expectations in college. Marvin was considered the 14th-best receiver recruit in the nation going into Ohio State despite solid performances and the incredible pedigree he brings from his father.

As a junior, he produced a year many felt worthy of a Heisman Trophy. His 1,000-yard year made him the first receiver in school history to have two seasons with that many yards.

Marvin Jr. has many weapons. But speed is perhaps the primary one. The 22.2 miles per hour he clocked last year was faster than any player in the NFL. It was clear that he could set the pros alight with that pace.

The individualism Of Marvin Harrison Jr.

While his father was a very traditional type of player, Marvin has made it his calling card to dress at the highest levels of fashion.

He told GQ, “It’s a new age of social media, and you get a lot of ideas from other people and create your style from it. I always want to look good everywhere I go. You never know who you’ll see or what someone’s first impression might be, so look nice! It’s a good first impression.”

But that streak of big personality that Harrison has doesn’t detract from the tremendous performances he brings to the gridiron.

When asked where he got that from, he said, “Definitely from my dad. He instilled in me early on: Take football seriously; take anything you do very seriously. I love the game and want to go out there and perform to the best that I can and help my team win.”

But this recent lawsuit and the trouble Harrison has gotten into with the NFLPA show where this individualism can become a problem. Football players today are expected to fulfill many roles off the field.

While Harrison Jr. is happy to meet some of those, there are others he is more reticent about. Hopefully, this will not be a problem for the wide receiver throughout his career.

What is the background to Fanatics suing Marvin Harrison Jr.?

Fanatics has exclusive deals with the NFLPA to sell their merchandise. But Harrison appears to be unhappy with that.

He refused to sign the NFLPA licensing deal that would give Fanatics the right to sell his professional jersey for the Arizona Cardinals. While Marvin has a contract with the company covering his college career, there isn’t one in place for the NFL with the NFLPA.

According to the lawsuit, “Fanatics entered into a limited Promotion and License Agreement with Harrison Jr.  The Promotion and License Agreement was non-exclusive and for a short term, ending after one season, in April 2024—i.e., before Harrison Jr. could enter the NFL Draft.”  

Fanatics and Harrison, represented by his father, signed a Binding Term Sheet in May 2023. Therefore, it isn’t clear if he is under an exclusive contract with Fanatics right now or not.

That means at this point that Fanatics cannot sell his jersey. The cause of the dispute centers around the fact that now that Harrison Jr. is a professional and believes he is a future superstar, the player thinks he deserves a higher level of remuneration from Fanatics.

Despite the dispute over the contract, the young wide receiver was invited to attend the 2024 NFLPA Rookie Premiere in L.A. However, despite being on the guest list, Harrison did not accept the invitation or show up.

Notably, every other rookie invited was there, except for Xavier Worthy, one of the Superbowl champion Chiefs, who cited a personal matter. His car was stolen. Life can be tricky!

How did Marvin Harrison Jr. get sued by Fanatics?

The case was brought before the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York. Fanatics allege that Marvin Harrison Jr. has broken a contract with the company.

According to their lawyers, “In May 2023, Harrison Jr. entered into a fully binding and enforceable contract to provide Fanatics with, among other things…” Now, you are probably wondering what those things are. And so are we! Several lines in the lawsuit are redacted as if this contract is a state secret. So, we are now very curious as to what that contract involved.

But anyway, moving on, according to the lawsuit, “Less than a year into his Agreement, however, Harrison Jr. has recently and publicly asserted that his binding Agreement with Fanatics does not exist, and he has refused to fulfill any of his obligations thereunder.”

Fanatics also claims their agreement with him is utterly binding: “Harrison Jr.’s Agreement with Fanatics is unequivocal about its binding nature. Entitled “Binding Term Sheet.”

Then again, the exact details and the remuneration that Harrison Jr. received are redacted. We are also told that Harrison Jr. has refused to do certain things, but we are not told what.  All the good stuff is always redacted. No fair.

How the story came about about the Marvin Harrison Jr. lawsuit

ESPN analyst Pat McAfee said on the channel that he had talked to Harrison Jr.’s camp. They told him that they refused to enter into the NFLPA Licensing Program.

However, he was told that this issue “was not about the NFLPA” and that he “will be a part of the NFLPA when the time comes.” The analyst also Tweeted, “This all revolves around a potential beef with Fanatics from an offer made when he was a sophomore in College.” The tweet then appeared in the lawsuit.

Fanatics claim that the information Harrison’s camp provided to ESPN is inaccurate. According to the lawsuit, “All of this was an attempt to mislead the public. 

Harrison Jr. accepted Fanatics’ offer and entered into and signed the Binding Term Sheet.

Is Panini involved in Marvin Harrison Jr. getting sued by Fanatics?

But one exciting thing is that it has not been redacted. The lawsuit alleges that “Harrison Jr. has asserted that other trading card companies have made competing offers to him.”

So, it may just be that Panini has offered him a good chunk of change to annoy Fanatics. They also accuse Harrison Jr. of demanding “that Fanatics meet or exceed the compensation offers he has allegedly received.” 

The lawsuit even tells us two companies are involved: “Upon information and belief, a smaller competitor of Fanatics was told by Harrison Jr. that a larger competitor of Fanatics had made him an offer, despite Harrison Jr.’s  Agreement with Fanatics.” The larger one is almost certainly Panini.

The Panini element of the lawsuit unpacked

That would also explain the lawsuit. Card or apparel companies are not very common to sue athletes, even if they are not very happy with how they are fulfilling their contracts. Indeed, athletes always break the terms of their contracts, and it usually isn’t a big deal.

However, if Panini is involved, that is an entirely different story. The relationship between the two companies is beyond contentious. Since Fanatics won the rights to the NBA and NFL in August 2021, there has been a sense that the apparel company is trying to put Panini out of business.

There have been several high-profile (well, by the standards of the hobby) lawsuits involving the two. Most notably, one filed by Panini alleges that Fanatics is violating American antitrust law. Before that, Panini had sued Fanatics for poaching its employees and trying to steal professional secrets from them.

Therefore, if Harrison Jr. received an enticing offer from Panini to hold off on making a new deal with Fanatics, that could explain the lawsuit. It may warn off athletes from making deals with their rivals.

That makes more sense than the apparel company is trying to make an example of a famous up-and-coming athlete.

What Are Fanatics Claiming?

Possible Panini involvement notwithstanding, Fanatics are claiming that Harrison’s refusal to meet the terms of the agreement between them is a material breach of contract and that, as a result, “Fanatics has incurred, and stands to incur, serious harm as a result of Harrison Jr.’s actions.  Fanatics therefore turns to this Court to seek relief, enforce its rights, and obtain damages to remedy Defendants’ harm.”

As a remedy for this alleged harm, Fanatics is seeking $500,000 in compensation.

They claim that partnerships between Fanatics and their athletes have all been a success for both parties involved. They cite partnerships with thousands of athletes and say, “Fanatics’ elite athlete partners have been uniformly pleased with their relationship with Fanatics.  As their professional careers have developed, the benefits of partnering with Fanatics have only grown.”

Therefore, the lawsuit charges that Harrison is unique in his unwillingness to cooperate. According to the lawsuit: “It is not surprising, therefore, that the numerous relationships Fanatics has with athletes, including top NFL draft picks, are all thriving.  Indeed, no athlete—other than Harrison Jr.—has ever repudiated their deal with Fanatics.  And no athlete has ever risked hurting the fans to leverage more money from Fanatics—other than Harrison Jr.”

They are saying he is the only case they ever had of someone unhappy with their exclusive deals.

Fanatics also insists they have tried repeatedly to resolve the issue. Still, to no avail: “Since it first heard of Harrison Jr.’s wrongful repudiation of the Agreement until this filing, Fanatics has attempted to resolve this dispute in good faith, but without success.  Indeed, multiple fanatic individuals have tried, directly and indirectly, repeatedly to resolve this matter.”

Final thoughts on how Harrison Jr. got sued by Fanatics

Harrison Jr. claims that a Binding Term Sheet is not an entire blown contract. So, it is up to the court to decide that. The case is likely to be settled privately.

It is unlikely that Harrison Jr. is this invested in stymying Fanatics. Although it is possible, Panini is likely promising him something completely insane.

Fanatics seems to pride itself on having excellent relations with its players. But suing them doesn’t contribute to that reputation; hence, they have a good reason to settle.

It will seem like they are trying to force all athletes to avail themselves of Fanatics services. It would be much better for the company and its reputation to get players to agree to fulfill contracts rather than forcing them too willingly.

It will also be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a pattern for Marvin Harrison Jr. It won’t matter much if he doesn’t end up as a superstar. But if he does, seeing him try to blaze his own path in the hobby will be fascinating.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.

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